Here’s my first “personal” post, about my experience waiting to hear about my application to the Hi-SEAS mars mission analog in Hawaii. This month is going to be pretty full on as I try to write 4 articles (2 months worth) to get things started here and on joshrichards.space at the same time, but I wanted you to see this post today (rather than next week when it goes up on joshrichards.space).
Enjoy, and let me know in the comments what your experience has been with waiting for big life-changing events!
During the first days of September I applied to be part of the next two Hi-SEAS missions : the NASA-funded Mars analog on Mauna Loa operated by the University of Hawaii, where a crew of 6 lives inside a white dome for 8 months simulating a human Mars mission. It’s a fantastic program that’s been running since 2013 and produces some incredible research on psychological and physiological factors that might impact a future human mission to Mars, and I was lucky enough to be first-tier mission support to the Hi-SEAS 3 mission that ran from October 2014 till June 2015.
But because I’d previously worked as mission support I’d heard that it automatically disqualified me from being part of the crew in the future. So when some of my students at the ISU SSP16 course in Haifa encouraged me to apply, I initially dismissed it – what was the point of going through the process of applying when it would be thrown out immediately? They persisted though, and the day after the ISU course finished (and the day before the deadline to apply) one of the Irish participants emailed me the application link and encouraged me to apply anyway. I was completely wrecked from two months of hell in Israel trying to keep the SSP, that had been followed by nightmare flights (courtesy of the Logistics Coordinator I’d locked horn with during the course) out of Tel Aviv to Moscow for 8 hours and then onto Los Angeles for the Mars One candidate meetup. I desperately wanted to get to know my fellow candidates but after everything I really wasn’t in the best headspace place to be socialising, and the Hi-SEAS application gave me something to focus on for myself for awhile. After passing out early a few nights and skipping a few of the more general social events (but still making time to run the team-building events) I managed to get the application in on time, and it felt great that I’d been able to focus on for myself for awhile even though I expected it to be rejected almost immediately.
When I got an email from Hi-SEAS a few weeks later I expected it to be a “Thanks for applying but unfortunately…”, and was genuinely shocked when it was an invite to do psychometric testing for the next selection phase. There was a definite sense of confusion: surely they’d seen in my application where I’d mentioned working as mission support, they were still inviting me to undergo further testing? A few weeks after that round of testing I was invited to more psychometric testing. Weeks rolled into months, and more testing was sent, my references were contacted, and eventually was invited to a lengthy video interview where I needed to record answers to pre-set questions. As this went on my initial confusion dropped away, replaced with a growing hope that maybe I was exactly what they were looking for. Maybe because I was applying for mission 5 and 6, enough had changed that working as support for mission 3 was no longer a disqualifier. Maybe I needed to start planning for the real possibility I’d be living inside a white dome on a Hawaiian volcano for 8 months of 2017!
A close friend in Perth had applied and made it through to the final interview phase too, so throughout all of this we’d been checking to see if one had heard anything from Hi-SEAS before the other. We both knew that going through the final interview videos would be a lengthy process, but there was also a sense of urgency brewing too: it was early November, Hi-SEAS Mission 5 is slated to start in January 2017 and any crew would need to be in Hawaii for pre-training atleast 2 weeks before they went inside the hab. She’d applied for a Masters in Science Communication Outreach through ANU’s “Science Circus” and needed to know if she should withdraw. I was seeing some amazing job opportunities, and had also been invited to speak at the WOMADelaide “Planet Talks” (ironically alongside Carmel Johnston, the commander of Hi-SEAS mission 4 ) and needed to let the organisers know if I would be pulling out to head to Hawaii.
As the weeks went on the uncertainty started to creep into every conversation: “Oh, that would be great but it all depends on whether I get Hi-SEAS” started to became a catch phrase. The timezone difference between Perth and Hawaii is 16 hours, so every morning that moment I woke up I’d immediately check my phone for an overnight email with news… to find nothing. Looking back through my journal I can see November has been completely consumed by an anxious wait, hoping to hear ANYTHING that might help plan for 2017, but by the first days of December we’d still heard nothing. The anxiety of focusing on the future and hoping to be chosen by someone is not a healthy way to live, and yet I have to admit it’s something I’ve been guilty of plenty of times in the past too.
Most of the last 4 years has been about being ready for Mars One’s next stage and waiting for news from them. I first heard about Mars One in September 2012, and immediately I knew I’d have to wait till early 2013 before I could apply. Knowing as an Australian candidate I could do more by speaking in Australian schools and to the Australian media, I left the UK and moved back to Australia to start working on things that I knew would help my candidacy. When applications opened on April 22nd I was ready: I spent the next 3 days focused on submitting the most honest and thorough application I could, mulling over the essay questions at length and then maxing out the word count. Then rest of the 2013 application period I spent encouraging others to apply before the August 31st deadline, even writing my 3rd comedy show “Mars Needs Guitars!” around the kind of personalities the crew would need and ending it with an empathic call to apply if you thought you’d fit into the merry “band” of explorers.
Once applications closed in August 2013, Mars One told those of us who’d applied that we’d hear “before the end of the year”. So we waited. We discussed Mars One on message boards and facebook groups, we worked on getting fitter and learned more about the challenges of settling on Mars… and we waited.
On December 30th – the second last day of 2013 – 1058 of us got an email saying we’d progressed to the next round, and we found out soon after we’d need to have medicals completed. In April 2014 we got news that 706 of us passed the medical phase and we’d be offered psychological interviews to select the final 100 candidates… and then nothing. We were still getting updates on Mars One’s other work, but radio silence on the selection process for over 6 months.
The frustration levels in the Facebook groups were palpable, but there was nothing any of us could do except get on with the rest of our lives and know that we’d hear from Mars One when the time was right. By the time we heard in November 2014 that interviews were going ahead the following month, the 706 candidates had shrunk to 660 – the uncertainty had forced all of us to honestly reflect on whether we really were truly committed to what we’d signed up for, and some decided they weren’t ready to give up their friends, family and life on Earth to eventually die on a cold and unforgiving planet more than 56 million kilometers away.
Even once we were interviewed and the Mars 100 selected in February 2015, the waiting has remained a constant. I remember the excitement of calling my girlfriend at the time to tell her I’d been selected as one of the last 100 candidates, the rush of media that followed, and being told soon after that the final selection (to choose the 24 who would become Mars One employees and start full-time training) would be in either March or September of 2016. When I was told it would be the later period in September 2016, it gave me a goal to work towards: write a new show, tour it worldwide and work for ISU in Israel right up until the final days before selection started. When we heard that the September selection would delayed it was frustrating because I’d planned my movements for all of 2016 around it, but I also knew being frustrated wouldn’t change it back. So I carried on with the rest of my plan for 2016, and since September I’ve made the most of new opportunities as they came up… like applying for Hi-SEAS!
While we wait to hear when the final Mars One selection phase will be, I’m reminded that the only time I feel anxious is when I’m focusuing on the future. I’ve made no shortage of mistake in the past and I’m pretty good about learning from those mistakes without dwelling on them, but one of my personal challenges is to focus on what I can do TODAY to help make humanity a dual-planet species rather than what I might be able to do in the future.
When we were waiting for 6 months to hear about the Mars One interviews, I wrote a 60,000 word manuscript on how colonising Mars would change our species physically psychologically and culturally… a manuscript I’m finally editing and publishing as I wait for the final selection phase. When I was recovering from Lymes disease in the Royal Marines I knew I had a goal to get back into training, but I had to focus on what I could challenge myself to complete one day at a time: hold down a full meal, walk to the toilet without help, walk to the mess hall alone, walk the base fence line without resting or vomiting, walk along the fenceline twice, jog a kilometer, jog 2 km, run a 100m, run 1km, run 2km then 5km, jog through the obstacle course without webbing or rifle, climb a 30ft rope without webbing or rifle, jog the course & climb the rope with my webbing and a rifle…
To leave the Hunter Company rehabilitation unit I completed a 6-mile speed march and had to pass the four “bottom field” tests: nearly breaking the obstacle course record, completing a 30 foot rope climb and a full regain, and fireman’s carrying another marine 200 yards in less than 90 seconds. All done with 14.5kg of equipment & rifle… and 10 weeks after two friends carried me to hospital, where I lost to 8kg in 6 days, where the nerves in my hands and feet shut down while the doctors tried to work out what was wrong with me, where I had to learn to walk again.
This morning I got my “Thanks for applying but unfortunately…” from Hi-SEAS, saying I hadn’t been selected for mission 5 or mission 6. And yes – part of me is disappointed. But while I’ve waited to hear from Hi-SEAS, I’ve also applied to be the Senior Exhibitions Manager at a new science, art and technology museum opening in Adelaide; applied to be a “Science and Innovation Activist” for Australia’s biggest science museum; and I’ve spoken at a school about Mars One.
I’ve launched joshrichards.space and my Patreon page so I have a platform to share my experiences and earn a little writing about it. I’ll now be able to go to WOMADelaide to talk about colonising Mars, and be able to more directly engage with Australian kids to say “If you want to work in space don’t let anyone tell you you can’t” than I could have from inside a white dome in Hawaii with a 20 minute delay on all communications. I also don’t have to worry any more that being on a Hi-SEAS mission might clash with the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide this year, or with Mars One’s final selection when they announce them.
Since I heard this morning, all my energy and enthusiasm has come back as I’ve let go of waiting for one potential future, and returned to asking myself what I can do right now to help our species become a dual planet one. The past is long gone, and anxiously waiting for the future is like trying to grab smoke – it’s not reality, only potential.
All I can influence is here and now, and I’m grateful that every day I get to take small steps towards something really big and beautiful.